Rebecca Walker



by John Mark Eberhart, © The Kansas City Star, January 27, 2002


"Meaning is not handed to us ready-made."

The voice belongs to Rebecca Walker, who is trying to answer the question: What is the universal appeal of her memoir, "Black White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self"?

"We're not going to find (meaning), necessarily, in an American flag or in a very simplified, symbolic way. We have to make real meaning, make our own relationships, and find a more profound spiritual ground to stand on. And that transcends race and culture and class and country."

The hardcover version of Walker's book drew critical raves and became a best seller. Now the paperback is out.

In an interview last week from her home in Berkeley, Calif., Walker chatted about the difficulties she experienced while growing up. They included trying to fit in with segments of American culture that found her too black or too white: Rebecca Leventhal Walker's parents are African-American writer Alice Walker and Caucasian lawyer Mel Leventhal.

But spare her any self-pity; that is one thing Walker never felt and does not want now.

"In most traditional narratives of mixed-race people, there's the sense that the cultural exclusion is overwhelming, almost deadly. ... I wanted to write a story in which there was the same difficulty, but I also wanted to write about how I was able to find meaning in that."

Walker's elegant prose chronicles her effort to find a place in both her mother's and father's worlds -- an effort complicated by her parents' divorce, which left young Rebecca moving back and forth between different cultures within that culture we call America.

But the book is "not just about being mixed race," Walker said. "It's not just about being a child of divorce. It's about finding one's center in a very complex, constantly changing universe, and that is something we are all participating in, that journey. And I just hope the book can be a friend to people who are on that journey."

The truth is that all of us feel at times we don't fit in somewhere, whether it's on a new job or in a new city or, in Walker's case, in situations that seem somehow narrower than our own experiences.

"I had that sense of no matter where I was, no matter which community, there was a part of me that always liked something that community didn't approve of, whether it was music or food or movies or a word or a way of talking or a way of moving my body. When I was listening to Prince with my friends, I couldn't say, 'Oh, did you hear that Led Zeppelin song?'

"My references were much wider. I could speak these different languages of culture, of place. The people who I visited in each place only had their one language because they weren't as mobile."

Sounds more like a blessing than a curse, as Walker would be the first to tell you. And she's also optimistic that society as a whole can move beyond judging its individuals mostly on appearances.

"It's that whole question of how we can begin to see each other in a profound way, as opposed to these physical readings: 'What do you look like, what car do you drive, how old are you?'

"We're cheating ourselves of a much richer experience."



Rebecca Walker - All Rights Reserved 2007. - Rebecca @ MySpace